Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday Prompts A Three-Day Celebration Amid Protests

When the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday was brought to the spiritual leader’s attention recently, the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying it was “nothing special,” but many others feel very differently. In fact, the commemoration of the 80th birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama drew a massive gathering, as people came together to celebrate the birth of the 14th Dalai Lama.

The Friends of the Dalai Lama organized the event, which was held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, where more than 18,000 people came to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The event also helped to draw attention to a three-day Global Compassion Summit, which will be held at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

As is the case with any event lately, the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday drew more than its share of protesters. The protesters represented the Shugden Buddhist community and carried signs reading “Stop lying!” and “Hypocrisy.” In the 1990s, the Dalai Lama outlawed the practice of Shugden Buddhism.

“They consider me a demon,” the Dalai Lama said during an interview. “Although I am not seeking independence or separation.”

Meanwhile, China is determined to quell any celebrations of the exiled Dalai Lama by increasing security patrols and hampering pilgrimages to the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan homeland.

“It is closed to outsiders,” said one police officer.

“Local pilgrims are allowed, but you need special permission,” said a young female officer dressed in black military-style trousers and a white Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA” T-shirt.

Ann Curry of the Today show hosted the birthday celebration, introducing such notables as rapper MC Hammer, comedian George Lopez, and Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams. The Dalai Lama posed for a picture with Larry King.

Jodi Williams, known for winning the peace prize in 1997 for her efforts in banning land mines, called the Dalai Lama “the most rocking, compassionate Buddhist monk I know.”

The 1949 Chinese invasion of Tibet forced the 15-year-old Dalai Lama to assume control of the Tibetan leadership. When peace talks with the Chinese government’s representatives failed in 1959, the Dalai Lama was forced into exile, fleeing the area by dressing as a common soldier. Since that time, the Dalai Lama has earned 150 awards, recognizing his work in promoting nonviolence and universal compassion.

[Featured image: the Dalai Lama courtesy of Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images]